Following a very interesting FIFA World CUP draw conducted in the picturesque state of Bahia in southern Brazil, GiveMeSport Academy member James Charuka makes a quickly calculated yet analytical prediction not just on who will go through from the group stages but on who will lift the trophy in the Maracana.
There are plenty of familiar faces expected at the business end but some notable scalps to be shocked along the way.
Brazil; Croatia; Mexico; Cameroon
Brazil on home turf will be heavily favoured to top this group with the only question being who accompanies them into the round of 16.
From an African perspective, Cameroon cannot really be unhappy with the draw but the Indomitable Lions will struggle against the wily Croatians and the lightweight yet climatically favoured Mexicans. Croatia to qualify in second-place.
Spain; Netherlands; Chile; Australia
A tricky group despite Spain’s obvious standing in world football. The Netherlands’ European star cast should stand them in good stead but Chile have a sprinkling of excellent professionals led by Juventus’ Arturo Vidal.
Australia lack the class to trouble top opponents but will provide resilience through teamwork. Spain and the Netherlands to shade it, with top place decided by their encounter.
Colombia; Greece; Ivory Coast; Japan
One of the most open groups and an excellent opportunity for Africa’s representative Ivory Coast to make the next round. Despite this good draw, I still cannot see Ivory Coast's ageing stars qualifying against the resoluteness of the Greeks and the fleet-footed Japanese with their ever-growing European-based contingent.
On this basis, I will tip Japan’s growing development to be marked with second-round qualification behind crack South American outfit Colombia.
Uruguay; Costa Rica; England; Italy
This group ranks second in terms of ‘group-of-death’ status and what this means is one giant must book an early flight home.
Italy’s unspectacular but street-wise approach seems to pay off in such tournaments, while Uruguay’s hard-fought qualification and adaptation to the conditions, not to mention their feared strike trio, should ensure they squeeze past an unlucky England.
There’s nothing in Roy Hodgson’s squad and tactical nous to suggest a different England team performance from previous tournaments. My heart is with England as ever but the head says Uruguay. Italy to top the group.
Switzerland; Ecuador; France; Honduras
Another very open group and probably France coach Didier Deschamps will offer a silent prayer of thanks. Having almost been bitten in the qualifying jungles of Europe, France will be wary and thus make the most of their play-off victory though they face potential banana skins in all three encounters.
Switzerland and Ecuador must win their head-to-head clash to decide who goes through and I tip the South Americans to edge it – just! France to thus top the group ahead of Ecuador.
Argentina; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Iran; Nigeria
Not a bad group overall for Nigeria as it could have been worse. The problem with Nigeria is not in the talent, but in harnessing it to achieve collective ends, something that has eluded them far too often since the heady days of 1994-98.
Just as in ’94 they are up against the Argentines, whose whole is certainly not the same as the sum of its parts.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will prove a stumbling block to both with strong and skilful players who are difficult to beat while Iran will be regarded as pushovers in the group. Much will depend on the Africans' clash with the eastern Europeans and I tip Bosnia (with a heavy heart) to edge out Nigeria into second place behind Argentina.
Germany; Portugal; Ghana; USA
There had to be a group of death and unfortunately my biggest hope for Africa, Ghana find themselves up against it from the very start.
Any of the four teams can qualify and even Germany may come unstuck if they rest on their laurels. Expect upsets and one fancied name to hit the road sooner than expected but Ghana’s biggest factor has to be that they play the United States before the much vaunted Germans and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
A win against the States will just about set the tonic for them to upset CR7 and Co. Germany may not even top the group but as far as predictions go, Ghana will do enough to finish second.
Belgium; Algeria; Russia; South Korea
Another very open group which should surely give African representatives a reasonable chance. Despite a sprinkling of professionals in Europe led by Hasan Yebda and Sofiane Ferghouli, Algeria must play out of their skins and this may be beyond them at the end, although they will provide a few scares along the way.
Belgium were impressive in qualifying but the WC presents a different proposition in the form of well drilled sides that will be more than prepared. Russia look the best bet to top the group while the current crop of South Korea is no longer the 2002 vintage that shocked the world. My predictor tips Russia to nip ahead of Belgium for the second phase.
Second Round 1 – likely to be Brazil v the Netherlands. Brazil for the quarter-final.
Second Round 2 – Colombia facing Uruguay. Too tight to call in this derby.
Second Round 3 – Spain v Croatia. Spain to proceed into the quarter-finals.
Second Round 4 – Italy v Japan. Italy will be too strong for a pluck Japanese outfit.
Second Round 5 - France v Bosnia. France to make it to the quarter-final.
Second Round 6 – Germany v Belgium. Germany to remain in the hunt for another title.
Second Round 7 – Argentina v Ecuador. Argentina to successfully negotiate tricky tie.
Second Round 8 - Russia v Ghana. Ghana to make history with 2nd consecutive quarter-final.
Quarter-Final 1 – Brazil v Colombia / Uruguay. Brazil to be stretched all the way to the semis.
Quarter-Final 2 – France v Germany. France to bow out with more grace than in 2010.
Quarter-Final 3 – Spain v Italy. Italy to be well prepared for tiki-taka. Forza Italia!
Quarter-Final 4 – Argentina v Ghana. The biggest upset in the history of the tournament.
Semi-Final 1- Brazil v Germany. Brazil to ride emotional tidal wave into the final.
Semi-Final 2- Italy v Ghana. Tie of the party-poopers. Ghana eventually run out of steam as Italy reach yet another final.
Third Place Play-off – Germany v Ghana. High scoring dead-rubber ends in Germany’s favour.
Final – Brazil v Italy. Repeat of USA ’94 final. Brazil to win in normal time (this time) to earn sixth star.
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